Review by Geistosan

"Live free, ride hard, and play air hockey."

Lost and Damned is the first downloadable offering from Rockstar and it does indeed deliver in the areas an expansion pack needs to: new weapons, new missions, and handful of new features. Just don't expect anything earth-shattering.

As a side-story and piece of episodic content it's nowhere near as dense or lengthy as Niko's journey through Liberty City, so it quickly dispenses with the formalities and drops you head-first into the biker gang world of Johnny Klebitz, vice president of the Alderney City chapter of The Lost motorcycle club as president Billy Grey is just getting out of rehab. Personalities clash as The Lost wages war with the Angels of Death biker gang, the mob, and internal struggles. The narrative is sparse and the characterizations pale to GTA IV's main quest, but in all fairness it's just one piece of downloadable add-on versus the dozens of missions that the original boasted.

It's to the point, but the cutscenes and dialogue are delivered with the same caliber you're expect from Rockstar. In short the game doesn't monkey around and assumes you've either beaten GTA IV or are familiar enough with the mechanics not to need coaching. You'll immediately get into huge gun fights or have to drive so-and-so over to someplace while being relentlessly pursued by the cops. The missions are straight-up action, and if that is really your thing then you won't be disappointed with Lost's missions. Those craving variety will come away a bit disappointed as there's really no clever missions like Niko's. There's more driving-based missions, but they're only brief respites before diving back into more gunfights.

The gameplay mechanics remain largely unchanged as Johnny can do anything Niko can do in regards to jumping over objects, crouching, taking cover, and so forth. Liberty City is as it was before the add-on except for the Lost clubhouse, so don't expect any new large areas to explore. What it does add is new music, weapons, and a handful of vehicles most of which are bikes: the game's showcase. It's what makes Lost stand out from the original GTA IV since bikes have been reconfigured to handle much better in terms of stability and maneuverability and it takes a lot to knock you off one. Gone are the days when you'd fly through the air as Niko and have a sliver of health remaining assuming you survived.

Plus you can use the new sawed-off shotgun on your bike as well, which is easily more powerful than the standard shotguns. It's just plain fun to ride right past a car and completely obliterate it with two shells, practically worth the download in and of itself. There's also the striker which peppers anything unlucky enough to come into your sights with all the rapidness you'd expect from an assault rifle and the automatic pistols which while not overtly powerful is still more than enough to get the job done. Rounding out the new arsenal are two new explosives: the grenade launcher and pipe bomb, both of which are particularly bouncy. If you do manage to hit something with the grenade launcher you'll be rewarded with a gratuitously large explosion, but neither replaces the original grenade or rocket launcher for effectiveness.

You'll also hear some new radio content and music, most of which seem directly to the hard-rock and classic-rock stations. AC/DC and other rock music quickly becomes Lost's defacto soundtrack and it easily fits. There's nothing better than cruising the streets in cinematic camera mode while Saxon's Wheels of Steel plays.

And there are extras, just nowhere near as many side missions as GTA IV has but you'll find races, gang wars, seagulls to be sniped, a couple of random character encounters, and mini-games. The races are all bike-only and a nice twist is added as when you enter then you can knock the other racers off with a baseball bat. It's fun, violent, and hilarious and I just wish you had the option to bat people in the regular game. Gang wars are self-explanatory, you just ride from point A to point B with your crew and start unloading but it's still all in good fun. In addition to all social activities found in the original game there's also air hockey, card-playing, and arm-wrestling, all fun for a few minutes but nothing more than distractions from the meatier portions of the game.

You don't have to be as social with Johnny's biker brothers as with Niko's friends and family, which is a huge plus. They don't rag you out for not inviting them to shovel down burgers or play pool, so you can take them out or not at your own leisure. You don't have to do anything with them to get favors, so right off the bat you can get guns from them or bike repairs. All the relationships, plot, places, and abilities are already established and well in motion as soon as you boot up the game so there's no waiting to get any of the good stuff, it's just available from the start.

The multiplayer's been given a boost too, but most of the new modes are just a new coating of paint over pre-existing. There's the usual races, team deathmatch, and deathmatch modes but there's some co-op as well. Club Business finds you fulfilling various tasks ala Mafiya Work except you're on bikes while Own the City is like Turf Wars. Witness Protection finds you either protecting a bus of witnesses or trying to take it down, though the biker's have a distinct advantage thanks to the sawed-off. The modes are fine but they don't add anything that was missing from the original's multiplayer. Sadly it also falls prey to the less-than-stellar lobby system, which I really wish would've gotten an overhaul. You're constantly dumped back into single player and can't seem to get a decent match going. People quit as soon as they lose, you'll be in a lobby full of people only to have them disappear in seconds, the usual multiplayer gripes.

Honestly I would've preferred two-player splitscreen as opposed to new multiplayer modes but it wasn't to be. In the end there's nothing inherently wrong with the multiplayer, it's just a cumbersome interface and wastes too much time trying to get a decent game going.

Capping everything off, Lost & Damned is more action and more bombastic than GTA IV and should be downloaded. You can power through the campaign in a couple days or less, but you'll find plenty of fun causing havoc, playing extras, and if you can find some pals online than the multiplayer mode. Rockstar's made a great add-on experience and hopefully they'll refine the formula with the next downloadable episode.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/27/09

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned (US, 02/17/09)


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